• Published 25th Jan 2012
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Fallout Equestria: Guise of Chaos - Fallingsnow



A story in post war Equestria following former raider Two Kick Ripple on a quest for vengeance.

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Chapter 4: Cinder Trails

Chapter 4: Cinder Trails

Looking at the dark blue mare out of the corner of my eye, I tried giving her my best grin. “Calm down, I’m pretty sure it won’t kill me. You need to relax a bit; enjoy the down time.” What I had wanted to say was that she should enjoy her last few hours with me. I’d be leaving with Ash to settle up a debt in the morning.

She leaned her head against my neck and sighed, staring at the table. A conversationalist she was not. I had to admit, I’d miss her when I was gone. If I got through a ruin of increasingly hostile nature, killed Hate, toppled a gang of murderous monsters, crushed an entire town of scum and got out the other side still shaped like a pony, I’d come back and see her. Big if.

When we’d gotten back to town, Traffic had been waiting just inside the gate. Immediately, she had asked Ash if he would leave us so that she could talk to me. He had nodded and taken off, flying into the town. She’d pulled me down a side alley and had leveled eyes with me.

“You’re leaving town, right?”

I had nodded, not sure where she was going with this. It was the first time she’d talked to me without glaring. “I can’t say I’m sad to see you go, but I have to thank you. You’ve done a lot for this town, despite what I told Intensive Care when he decided to pull you through the gate. He didn’t care that you were a Paragon.”

I’d tried to stutter out something, surprised that she had known this whole time. “Two Kick Rip, left hoof of Hate. You don’t just leave a reputation like that. I’ve had dealings with Neighwhere, with you, but something’s changed. You’re not the Rip I knew. I’ve listened to that mare talk about how heroic you were when you saved her, throwing yourself in harm's way. The Rip I knew wouldn’t have done that. No Paragon would have.”

I’d not gotten the feeling with Traffic that I had when I’d seen Sweeps that first time, that feeling of déjà vu that had filled me with warnings. She shook her head as she saw me straining to remember. “Don’t worry Ripple, there was nothing between us. A couple of trading stops, nothing more. Back before the slaving started.” That was a good sign. Didn’t seem like anypony that approved of slavers would be living in Blank.

“That mare loves you, you know. I don’t know why, but you might want to say something before you leave her here.” Was Traffic psychic? I’d only told Ash... who must have told Traffic. Ah.

I had nodded my head. “Traffic... thanks. I’ll talk to Shade. Ash and I will be leaving early in the morning, we’ll need to stock up before we go.”

Traffic actually smiled at me. First time that had happened. “Come by the store in the morning. I’ll set you up.” I’d nodded in thanks and turned to leave, but her hoof on my leg had halted me. “Take care of Ashred. He’s not as tough as he lets on.” She’d looked at me for a few seconds then, an almost pleading look, and had left the alley ahead of me. I’d left shortly after and Ash had landed next to me almost immediately.

Which led back to the tavern I was sitting in. Ash was slowly getting blitzed and Shade still rested her head on my neck. “Shade...”

She sighed slightly and opened her eyes, looking at up at me. “I... we’re leaving in the morning. Ash and me.” She looked at me questioningly, glancing over at the oblivious griffin before lifting her head and sitting up. “You’ll be good here, I’ve seen how much you can help out the town.”

A hurt look cut across her face as she looked at me. That wasn’t good. “You’re leaving me?”

I nodded slowly. “It’s what you wanted. I got you to Blank, to safety. You’re not safe with me.” I was gonna have to play this out slowly if I didn’t want her to cry. She looked on the verge. I put a hoof on her leg reassuringly. “I can’t guarantee that you’ll be safe where I’m going. Once I deal with some problems, I’ll come back. I promise.”

Ash slammed a glass down on the table, causing both of us to jump. “Oh come on, just kiss and get this mushy crap out of the way.” Shade blushed brightly and looked away and I just glared death at the inebriated griffin. He pointed the glass, cracked from the impact, at Shade. “He makes a good point though. We’re gonna be in some heavy shit where we’re going.” Pointing the glass at me, he kept looking at Shade. “I’ve personally seen the sort of thing that your buck here can survive. It’d take balefire to make sure he stayed down, and honestly, its not just like you find those just laying around. He’ll vanquish the villain and we’ll come back big damned heroes.”

He leaned back, looking for anything else to drink. “Just you watch, little miss. We’ll be fine.”

Somehow, that had worked. Shade looked strangely comforted, her eyes staring into mine. I’d miss those eyes, I had to say. She closed her eyes and rested her head back in its spot on my neck and I glanced back at Ash, who had a giant shit eating grin on his face. He tipped his glass at me and stood, wobbling his way over towards the bar to get another drink. I tipped back the last of my whiskey and rested my head on top of hers, taking my own advice and just enjoying the moment.

----

When we left the tavern, which I had come to figure out Ash had been living in when he collapsed in the darkest corner of the building and the pony behind the counter gave me a small shrug, I was carrying Shade. She had fallen asleep and I had ordered a few more drinks. Now I stumbled slightly, steadying her on my back with a magical steel glow. Once on the street, I realized that it was raining and hurried to the inn to get the sleeping mare out of the open.

I’d still not actually stayed in the room provided, having spent all of my nights in the clinic, but as I opened the door I noticed that it seemed doubtful Shade had spent more than an hour or two in it as well. I lay her gently on the mattress in the room and pulled a threadbare sheet over her as she mumbled lightly in her sleep.

I removed my barding, glad that my magic had come back in strength or I would have needed help. I put the barding on the ground within easy reach and lay down on the floor. As I drifted off to sleep, I watched Shade breath softly.

I would miss her.

----

I awoke to a tapping on the filthy window. I opened my eyes and found that Shade had moved sometime in the night, cuddling against me. Not that I was opposed to it, it just surprised me. Looking up, I could make out the blurry outline of a griffin’s head shadowed on the window.

Time to leave.

I got to my hooves and put my barding on, keeping quiet so as to not wake up the peacefully resting mare. I packed up what gear I had and left, making sure to stay quiet. Walking down the hall towards the exit, I paused briefly. Should I really just leave her like that, to wake up with me missing?

It was probably for the best. She would likely try to tag along if she was awake.

Ash was waiting with his signature grin. “Hey there loverboy. Leave your little marefriend with some fond memories?” He nudged at my side with an elbow. My horn glowed and Broken was outlined in its holster. He held up the hand, laughing. “Whoa there. I’m just kidding, Kick. Let’s hit up Traffic’s, then we should hit the road.”

I noticed that as we walked across the street, he kept running the feathers on his head low, over his eyes. His drinking must have left him with a killer headache. Not that it was bright in the wasteland... but it still made me chuckle slightly.

Traffic’s was still under major renovation and I wondered idly how they would actually put the sign back. The door was open and we walked in to find Traffic waiting behind the counter. She had a pile of supplies on the counter and was tapping a hoof on the counter, looking very bored. When she noticed us walk in, she perked up immediately and crossed her hooves on the counter, fixing us with her gaze.

“Morning, Miss Traffic.” Ash made a show of tipping some feathers in respect and I gave a little nod to Traffic. I could hear Torque working on something in the back room, but my attention went to the pile of supplies after only a second.

“I’ve scrounged up some supplies I can add to your tab, Ripple.” She nodded to me and smiled slightly. Her mood was entirely different from the scowling mare I had come to know.

“Ammo, for both of your weapons. Potions, Med-X, stuff for radiation. All the bandages I could spare.” I noticed that nearly half of the pile was bandages, both mundane and magical. I’d wanted to start avoiding them as a fashion statement but knowing my luck, I’d probably need as many as I could get my hooves on for my next body covering injury.

As we began sorting through the pile, what was mine and what was his, I paused, holding up an oddly colored shell. “What’s this? Didn’t know shells came in anything but red.”

Shaking her head in disappointment, she scoffed at me. “Don’t know how you survive.... anyways, gonna say this so you can understand.”

She held up a series of shells in one hoof... how she balanced them I doubt I will ever know. She pointed from left to right. “Buckshot. Slug. Magnum. Incendiary.” She dropped them back into the pile where they sat as a multicolored assortment of death. She held up another and flicked it into the air, catching it. She was rather talented for a merchant. “This is a little specialty, made in this very shop by Torque. Won’t find these anywhere else in the wastes, which is why I’m only giving you three. Explosive slugs. Don’t use these in close range, you’ll blow your hoof off. Again.”

She put it into the pile and smiled slyly at me. “Understand?”

I nodded, taking the ammunition and dumping it into my saddlebag. “Got it.” I had liked her more when she was being unfriendly. She was a bit of an ass when she was being friendly. I scooped what medicine Ash hadn’t taken into my bags and gave my thanks to Traffic. “Thanks for this.”

“Not a problem. Just pay me back later.” She rubbed her hooves together as she said this. I had a feeling I’d be paying for destroying her sign for the rest of my life. However long that may be.

Leaving the store, I spotted Ironsight, the guard that had been there when I’d first woken up in the town. He was trotting towards us, his rifle now placed firmly in a battle saddle. I found myself surprised that he not been one of the two guards that Sweeps had turned to paste.

“Heard about what you done.” His face darkened almost imperceptibly. “Shame hearing about Raindrop and Camellia. They were good ponies.” I was ashamed, I’d never learned the names of the two that had been killed. “I wish I were here but I was out investigating raider activity. If you see any, could you do me a favor and end their little spree? It’d be a big help.”

I looked at Ash who shrugged. We would inevitably kill some raiders, why not collect for the job. The griffin answered first. “Sure thing, Mr. Ironsight. Just make sure to mention to Miss Traffic that we’ll be assisting you in this.”

Ironsight nodded and turned, continuing on patrol through the town. The gate opened as we neared it, the same shaky looking pony at guard, and we were out of Blank. The gates closed behind us as we began our walk towards Neighwhere, towards a point that had been on Sweeps’ PipBuck.

Ministry of Peace Hornsmith Regional HQ.

It was all we had to go on, but we knew where it was and knew that there was something there that Hate wanted.

Good enough for Ash.

Good enough for me.

----

The walk back to the ruins of Hornsmith was rather uneventful. A single raider had tried attacking us, clearly insane beyond any reasoning, armed only with his teeth and hooves. He’d died before even getting within throwing distance of us, the contents of his head rearranged across the pavement by a precise shot from the large rifle Ash carried.

I suppose that the rain was keeping our encounter rate low. Eventually, Ash sighed quite loudly. Then he sighed again.

“Okay. What’s wrong Ash.”

“I’d forgotten how boring it was to walk everywhere. Why couldn’t you have been a pegasus? Then we coulda gotten there sometime today.” Really? That was his complaint?

I pulled up my PipBuck and flicked through the dials until I found what I was looking for. The radio. “I’ll turn on some music, if that will entertain you.”

Ash grinned. “Sure. Works for me, been meaning to listen in on Pon3 since we got the relay back up.” I had to admit, I was curious as well, I’d never really listened to any of the radios running in town and I had been distracted while in the tavern. I pressed a button and the PipBuck began releasing a stream of music from it’s tinny little speakers.

We walked, enjoying the sound of a mare singing. Then the song ended, replaced almost instantly by a buck’s voice, shouting a greeting. “Good morning, wastelanders. That was the ever talented Sapphire Shores, singing about never letting life get ya’ down. Now, its time for some news. This one’s going down to all you ponies way down in Blank. I know you may have felt abandoned, but ‘ol DJ Pon3 was just having some... raider related technical difficulties keepin’ me from bringing the good news. I’ve kept an eye on you, but just recently I noticed you could hear me again!”

I paused. Was... this about us?

“Lookin’ into it, I found something I didn’t expect. A daring duo walked into a raiders den to get some medicine for the sick and downtrodden. They also happened to bring music back into those same ponies lives. If you two are listening, this DJ would like to give his thanks. You’ve helped ease the pains of day to day life for every pony down there. Now, to get back to givin’ you that music that you fought so hard to bring back...”

I’d stopped listening as the DJ announced who and what was coming on next. Ash punched me in the shoulder lightly, laughing. “See Kick! We’re famous already. Now if only he had said what we looked like...” His eyes trailed off into the distance. He was star struck.

“Ash, snap out of it. If he announced what we looked like, we’d have all of those raider’s friends out for our blood. Lets stick to the anonymity for now, it’s less hazardous.” I shoved him lightly and he snapped out of it.

His grin was a bit more manic than usual. “Yeah, good point. Lets kill some more raiders and get real famous, so they won’t want to mess with us anymore.”

“Yeah, not the point I was going for.” I couldn’t talk him out of it. He kept his rifle out after this, keeping his eyes out for any chance to gain some more fame.

Fame is fun. Go with it.

Great. Now that Shade was not around, the voice had slowly been gaining volume, trying to tell me what to do from the dark corner of my mind. I started feeling the ache around the same time, a need to be faster, stronger and better at everything.

I had two shots of stampede in my bag. Two chances for the monster within to come out. To distract myself, I looked around us. We were still in the stretch of wasteland between Blank and the ruined city, nothing much to look at. A building every now or then, burnt out or long since looted. Blasted trees and the occasional skycarriage impact site. They were all headed in the same direction, away from where I assumed Maremack was up on the mountain.

From here, I could see the mountain, knew that Neighwhere and Stable 87 were right next to it, but the mountain was covered with clouds. I couldn’t really tell where Maremack was exactly.

I froze as I noticed the three red dots on my E.F.S. and whistled a short tone. Ash stopped mid stride and looked back to see me pulling Broken from its place at my side. He nodded and I pointed towards the hostiles, then towards a nearby crashed hunk of metal. The two of us crept to it and took cover.

Looking over the edge, I saw what we were up against. Three ponies. They were camped out under the awning of a low shack I hadn’t noticed. Looking closer, I saw what I was looking for.

Jagged metal. Chains. Three flanks adorned with images of rape and death. Ponies that were like the old me. The ones I told myself all deserved to be shot in the head at least once. Ash checked that a round was chambered and took aim through a jagged hole in our cover. I’d kept the magazine in my shotgun low to account for my new options and floated out two slug rounds, loading them in.

I took aim myself, not used to this range but activating S.A.T.S. to compensate. Ash was competent enough at this to adapt and knew he would go for one of the targets I didn’t hit. Locking in my target, I keyed off the spell and fired a round.

The slug made the distance in a split second, hitting the pony to the left, a filthy orange unicorn buck with chains for a cutie mark, right beneath his eye. His head came apart violently as the chunk of lead tore into his skull and brain, splattering the wall next to him. Almost instantly, the rifle to my right made its report, echoing across the wastes. The pony to the right, a dark green earth pony mare, took the round right where her neck connected to her body. It blew a hole wide enough that I could see through.

The third pony moved faster than I had expected, diving for the door of the shack. Kicking the door in, he disappeared into the dark interior.

Then the other red dots flickered to life. The shack must have been full of them. “Oh fuck. Ash, incoming!” Automatic gunfire tore out of the building through windows, the doorway and a number of holes in the wall. As our cover took the full force of the fusillade, I saw Ash open his wings but pull them back in sharply as bullets grazed between the feathers, tearing several apart. He gave me a halfhearted shrug and sat down, waiting.

I wasn’t content to wait until they decided to stop shooting and start throwing grenades.

Or throwing nail bombs.

I loaded one of the special rounds Traffic had given me into the breach and took a few deep breaths. If I was to use these to their best extent, I had to know just exactly they could do. Ash watched me put the shell in and grinned, nodding at me in agreement.

I triggered S.A.T.S. more for the time than for accuracy. It was the side of a damned building. Broken floated free from cover and fired, making the same sound it always did. I’d hoped for something louder.

The side of the building exploded in a clap of pressure and debris. A full half of the dots winked out immediately. This was our chance. As one, we leaped over our cover and rushed the building, coming in through a cloud of dust and smoke.

The first pony I saw took a slug round through his open mouth, decorating the second pony I saw with chunks of spine. I slid to the side and kicked out, hitting the second pony in the shoulder with a rear hoof, the blast of a shell tearing her leg and bits of rib from her body.

Ash went in with his claws ready, tearing the throat from a wounded unicorn mare trying to lift an assault rifle. He still held his over sized rifle in one hand and slammed the barrel into the chest of a charging earth pony carrying a sledgehammer. The round didn’t have far to go, punching through the buck and blowing most of his organs out the back.

From there it was simple. Most of the hostiles that had been in this room were shredded up pretty good from the blast, bits of wood and metal having sliced them to death. A few were still breathing or struggling and we put them down quick enough before reloading our weapons in the sudden calm that the short battle had left behind..

Ash went about his business, collecting the ears from the dead. When I had asked him about it with the first raider a few hours back, he’d told me it was as proof for the kills. Wouldn’t collect on Ironsights job without any proof. It had made a grim sort of sense and I’d dropped it.

Walking amongst the dead ponies, collecting what ammo and supplies I could from the broken bodies, I paused as I noticed the sound my hooves were making on the floor. It was hollow. The building was not exactly large and I’d not expected it to have a basement, but I found a hatch on the floor within seconds. I opened it slowly, floating Broken next to me. Nothing but darkness.

I dropped into the hole, turning the light on my PipBuck on as soon as I landed. It illuminated the small room well enough and I stopped dead in my tracks as I saw what it held.

The dead ponies upstairs were slavers, probably just stopping here long enough to get some rest. Their cargo was in the basement. I counted three mares, two bucks, a colt and five fillies. They were all tied and gagged, their eyes looking at me with fear. I holstered Broken and called up to Ash. “Ash, gonna need some help down here.”

His head popped down through the hole and he saw what I’d found. His grin disappeared completely and he dropped through, slinging his rifle over his back. We approached the slaves slowly, trying to convey to them that we meant them absolutely no harm. I untied the nearest filly first, but she bit me on the leg as soon as I removed the gag. I grunted through the pain, surprised at how hard she could bite.

Ash was cutting bonds with his claws, letting the ponies remove their own gags.

Before long we had all of the slaves freed and up above, away from the slaughter. Their self appointed leader was chatting with me. At me. The smaller of the two bucks, a red earth pony who had introduced himself as Bulkhead, was rather odd. “Anyways, I must thank you dear sir. Without you, my colleagues and I would have been in a right jam. I do apologize again for young Nips taking a bite out of you, she does that to everypony you see. A right nuisance, I’ve been telling her mother since the filly was born that nothing good could come out of it. Rosemary, I tell her, you really must get your daughter to stop biting ponies. What if they should think she were a raider?”

My eyes had glazed over as he talked. Then he talked some more. My eyes drifted to the sides and I watched as Ash armed the ponies with some of the... lower quality weapons that the slavers had been firing at us, giving them excess ammunition and a few healing supplies. I knew that he viewed every item given as a loss, but I was glad that he was doing it anyways. He’d been treating these ponies with the respect I’d only seen him give consistently to Traffic.

Ash finished and walked towards me, the group of former slaves following him. “Hey, Kick, sorry to interrupt your conversation.” That grin again. Ass. “Everyone’s loaded up and ready to go. I gave Colonnade the directions to Blank and told him to mention us when he got there. Should be enough to get them entrance.”

Bulkhead was still talking at me as the other buck, who I realized was probably his brother, put a hoof around his shoulder and guided him away, a knowing look on his face. Ash waved lightly as the group headed off down the road, armed and free.

The contented grin would not leave my face. Shade would be proud.

We turned and began down the street again, heading towards the ruins and our first destination. Ash snorted and nudged me. “Bet I learned more about them than you did.”

I didn’t doubt it.

“The brothers, they’re down from Trottingham. Builders, the both of them. They’ll do well in Blank. The rest are just stragglers and orphans they’ve met along the way. Good bucks, gotta say.” Well, at least we hadn’t risked ourselves to kill some slavers and and free a mob of raiders.

“Right. Shut up Ash. I’ve got a headache.”

Chuckling, he closed his beak and paced alongside me.

----

Smooshed her flat. If only you knew who she really was. The things you two did together. The fun you had. You were like a brother to her. You killed her. Killed her flat.

Shut the fuck up. Shut the fuck up. Shut up.

When we had come to the outskirts of Hornsmith, I’d thought briefly of Sweeps. The voice had come in full force right then, either taking full advantage of memory only he had access to or lying to me. Either way, I was getting angry.

“Hey, Kick, check the map. I think we’re getting close.”

Thank you for the distraction. Lifting my PipBuck, I flipped through a few menus and came to the map. The street layout was on a convenient grid and the building we were looking for was just a couple of blocks south of us. I looked up, hoping to see something as important as the regional headquarters for the Ministry of Peace, but saw nothing but rubble. Either it was a short building or we were looking for a large pile of masonry.

Covering the distance was easy, but when we came to the building I saw what the challenge would be. It had the same design scheme that the rest of Hornsmith shared, bland and grey. I’d been under the impression that unicorns had a tendency towards artistic ability. None of that was present.

The Regional HQ was a squat, grey slab with a ring of shattered windows on its second floor. The front door was composed of two large chunks of metal with the MoP emblem carved into each. At least it wasn’t slathered in posters.

The front doors were ajar slightly, but that didn’t concern me. Hornsmith was probably emptier than the rest of the wasteland from what I’d seen. Aside from a few raiders and some radroaches, the outskirts were actually safe.

Stepping into the entry hall, I stopped. The inside was massively different from the outside. Plants were everywhere, covering every surface. Everything was... green. “Wow... that’s bizarre.”

I hadn’t even realized I’d been the one to say it until Ash stepped in next to me, his eyes wide. “Yeah. Everything’s... alive.”

The two of us stood there amidst the green, vines and leaves cushioning the floor beneath us. Ash ripped up a bit of foliage and held it in front of his eyes, rubbing it between his talons. “So... what do you suppose we’re looking for.”

The question of the hour.

----

The terminal behind the desk was on and still signed in. Two for two. The information on it was less than useful. Visitor sign ins, scheduling information, a memo informing of a MoM party somewhere in Hornsmith. Wasn’t really sure what MoM was though.

Ash had been pacing and scratching aimlessly at the walls. “Ash, lets check further in. Keep an eye out for... anything, I guess.” He dropped the shredded bundle of leaves he’d been holding and nodded, clearly excited to be anywhere but in this room. The main hallway leading down from the entryway had no side doors, but ended in a room similar to the one that had been in Relay #108, except that the elevator in the middle was of a much nicer model. I assumed that there was a skylight, but it was so choked with vegetation that I couldn’t even see the ceiling.

Ringing the room were two levels of floors, a railed walkway running along the second level, though much of it had collapsed or been bent out of shape by years of plant growth.

The elevator doors were open and the dark within felt almost menacing. The vines were coming from the door, but as I looked closer I saw that probably both of us could get in if it came to that. Ash was circling the room, flapping slowly as he looked through doors and broken windows. “Yeah, Kick, I don’t think anything important went on here. There’s nothing. No terminals, no nothing.”

I nodded as I walked to the elevator and peered inside. Down a ways I could make out a light. At least the power was still on. “Ash, think we’re gonna have to go down there. You gonna be able to help me get out later without shredding me up?”

He landed next to me and looked inside. Holding up a hand, he clicked the claws together. They looked razor sharp. “I can do my best.”

I sighed. That would have to do. Reaching into the darkness, I groped until I found a vine that ran all the way down. A few test tugs and I was pretty sure it wouldn’t break under my weight. I twisted the vine around my leg a little and hopped into the blackness. Sliding down the vine proved easier than I had expected and I was down into the basement level no worse for the trip. Ash landed next to me with a burst of plant sap and leaves.

Wiping some off of my face, I glared at him. He shrugged and grinned.

This room proved to have much more of what I felt would help us. Several terminals lit the room, providing the light I had seen. Several had been crushed between vines, but the intact ones seemed to be fully functioning. Walking up to the nearest terminal, I read what was written on the screen.

>>Ministry of Peace Regional Headquarters Hornsmith
>>Basement Level 1 - Experimental Medicine
>>
>>Login:
>>Password:

Well, at least this floor sounded promising. I checked each terminal in turn, but every one had the same screen. Nothing could be done until we found what we needed to log in or an already unlocked terminal.

Ash got my attention by snapping and pointed at something on the wall. A map of the floorplan was hiding behind some vines which he carefully removed, trying not to destroy the map. Much of it was worn away, but I could see the room we were in and two hallways leading to the sides. Looking, I saw one door was open but the corridor behind it was choked with rubble and more plants. The second door was closed.

Coming to the door, I saw no way of opening it. I went and looked at the open door to get an idea of what I was dealing with. Taking in as much about the open door as I could, I returned to the closed door and cracked my neck, shaking out my legs as I did so. “Okay, stand back.”

I cleared away some of the vines at the bottom of the door and found grooves built into the edges. I jammed my hooves in and threw all of my strength into lifting the door. At first, nothing happened. Slowly, though, I felt the door begin to give. Slowly, but surely, it began sliding up into the ceiling. I strained and grunted, but this door was much less heavy than that sign had been.

With a pop of sparks and a crunch of metal, the door slid easily. I’d broken whatever was operating it as far as I could tell, but it meant that the door was no longer the impassable barrier it had been a minute before.

Ash clapped mockingly. “Brilliant tact there. Masterful lock picking, I must say.” I ignored him and looked into the hall I had opened. The lack of vegetation was the first thing I noticed. This hallway was clean. I mean really clean.

Stepping into it, I looked around. I could barely tell that this hallways was around 200 years old. It looked brand new. Stranger and stranger.

Once in, I saw that this hallways was lined with what appeared to be labs. Science stuff lay all about the tables in each one, drawings and equations written on chalkboards. At the end of the hallways was another door, one that luckily opened when I approached.

The room beyond answered one of my questions. A plaque on the desk read Administrator Grace. I smiled as I recognized the name of the pony that had been in the memory I’d accidentally subjected myself to. The room had paper scattered across it, like somepony had been searching for something. The desk itself held two terminals. I walked around the desk to get a better look.

One of the terminals was blown out, several bullet holes punching through the screen and into the machinery within. A dried brown stain was on the ground beneath me and I didn’t have to think much to imagine what had happened here. The second terminal, however, was a much better find.

It was logged in.

>>Welcome Administrator Grace
>>Security Lock Down of Primary Shaft Activated
>>Day [9999] of Lock Down
>>
>>
><>

Well, that explained the door. The last line was blinking intermittently and I tapped at a key experimentally. A letter appeared. Success.

I erased what I had written, hunting for each key.

><>end lock down

I pressed enter and the screen began scrolling rapidly through a loading bar. It beeped and the screen changed.

>>Security Lock Down Ended
>>Severe damage found in all sub-basement levels.
>>Maintenance informed.

I heard a humming as the building slowly brought itself back to life. Ash looked up from where he was rummaging through a stack of papers, tilting his head to the side as he listened to the low noise filling the room. He looked at me from the corner of his eye. “What did you do?”

Looking at the screen, I smiled and trotted back around the table, headed for the door.. “Hopefully, I just opened some doors. You find anything?”

Tossing a stack of paper into the air, he dropped to all fours and turned with me. “Nope.” Leaving the office, I noticed that most of the labs were better lit now and terminals that I hadn’t noticed were on, numbers running across their screens. Looking closer, I could see only gibberish numbers that must have meant something two hundred years ago, but were now just random numbers and words jumbled together.

The main room was only slightly better lit than it had been, though that was mostly due to the light shining out into the overgrown gloom from the spotless corridor. I’d sort of hoped for a change, but there was nothing.

Walking ahead, further into the room, Ash threw his claws above him in exasperation. “Nothing. This place sucks!”

The elevator shaft made an odd straining sound for a second before it exploded plant matter out into the room, coating the two of us in shredded plant goo. Ash took the full force of it and it coated him beak to tail, dripping green. He wiped his eyes clear and stared in indignation at the elevator, which had arrived at this floor.

With a pleasant ding, the elevator opened its doors for the first time in two hundred years. Bones poured out and I took a step towards it. Ash looked at me, shocked and dripping. “You’re not getting in that? The bone tube? Really.”

I shrugged slightly and shook some of the plant matter that clung to my face and mane off. “The alternative is leaving. We’ve not found whatever it is we’re here for, so why not?” I used my magic to move the bones out from the elevator and piled them next to the doorway. “Also, its blocking our only way out.”

He looked defeated as I stepped into the elevator. I hid my grimace as I saw the color that the floor had turned. I was standing in two hundred year old melted pony. Ash approached the elevator slowly and stepped inside, tucking his wings in tight.

“Do not like this. On the record.” He was shaking slightly. I looked at the list of options on the panel in front of me.

1 - Lobby
B1 - Experimental Medicine
B2 - Dormitories
B3 - Holding
B4 -

The last option was heavily scratched out and seemingly coated in a layer of long dried blood. Sounded promising. I pressed that button with my horn and the doors closed. The light in the elevator was dim and flickered slightly, but I could still see the sense of panic on Ash’s face.

“Ash... are you claustrophobic?”

He glared at me. “Don’t know what that means. Griffins were given wings, meant to soar through the skies. We weren’t meant to be underground. No room here at all.” He kept on like that for a little bit, rubbing his arms with his claws.

I would definitely have to remember this little detail. Big bad griffin was afraid of small spaces.

A little readout above the door showed what floor we were passing and I watched as it ran down through the numbers until it came to rest at B4 and the doors clicked open.

Here I’d thought that above had been overgrown. I could barely see down here, so overgrown was the room. Vines hung across everything. Leaves and plants were dominant. Ash tore out of the elevator, cutting his way through several before he stopped, glad to be free of the confining tube. He noticed the environment for the first time and let out a low whistle.

“Hey Kick? You sorta getting the feeling that what we’re looking for is maybe tied in with these plants?”

“Why are you whispering?”

He shrugged and pulled out his rifle. “Dunno. Just doesn’t feel right down here.”

I noticed it then. It wasn’t just the plants filling the room. Something felt wrong in the air. No, everywhere. It just felt wrong down here. Broken floated out next to me and I nodded towards a hallways, the one path out of this room.

We proceeded slowly, moving as quietly as we could. The plants covering the metal floor helped in this immensely, masking our steps. The only light down here were from a few panels set into the walls, shining a pale light where they could between the gaps in the foliage.

The next room we came to gave me a sense of déjà vu. It was shaped almost exactly like the one that had been in the memory orb. In the center, instead of a glass chamber, sat a pedestal, thick wires and vines trailing into and around it. Atop the pedestal sat a small black cube.

Approaching, I felt the voice in my head perk up.

Hear that? You don’t hear that? Stop walking forward you idiot. What the hell is wrong with you? If you die then the fun ends forever! STOP!

It must have been spite that kept me walking. Spite to that voice in the back of my head. No advice it had ever given me had been good advice. I approached the black cube and took a closer look. It was suspended in some sort of magical field, floating slightly. Built into the column was a terminal and I wiped away what vines obscured the screen.

>>Project Greenhoof
>>Operational Status: In Stasis
>>
>>Menu

I’d been getting the hang of these terminals and selected menu. The options provided gave me a bunch of technical jargon that didn’t really feel important. Looking through a few, this was confirmed. The terminal politely informed me that more information could be found in the head scientists office.

I looked around the room, hoping to figure out which of the side doors lead there. Why of course, it was the biggest one there with the name Dr. Budding Leaf. That seemed rather appropriate for the project title. I trotted away from the cube, the voice letting out a little sigh of relief.

If it didn’t want the cube, then I most definitely did.

The door slid halfway open as I approached, vines catching in its internal mechanisms. The door strained and shot sparks before letting out a puff of smoke and giving up. Doors in this building were not having a good day. At least it had gotten halfway open.

The office was filled with plants. It looked like they had come in through the air ducts, vines choking the distended hole in the wall. I took a few steps towards the desk holding a terminal and froze. Sitting there was who I assumed was Dr. Budding Leaf. The skeleton of Budding Leaf at least. Her jaw was shattered, vines crammed down where her throat would have been. Her ribs were shattered, plants growing through and around them.

On the desk I spotted a small black orb.

“Hey Ash. Cover me for a minute.”

I put my horn to the orb and fell into the memory.

oooOOOooo

I was in the same room, just a lot cleaner, looking at a terminal. There was a loud noise in the air, a rhythmic screeching that grated on my nerves immediately. The door to the office slid open and the mare I was in began shouting before she even looked up. I could only assume that I was Budding Leaf right now.

“Why hasn’t that damned alarm been turned off?” Slamming her hoof into the desktop and standing in outrage, Budding Leaf glared at a green pony in a lab coat. “First I get that case along with orders to send the specimen to Hoofington and then the alarm starts going off! Tell me why we can’t get the fucking alarm quiet?”

The pony in the coat shuffled nervously, looking at the carpeted floor beneath his hooves. “We’re sorry Dr. Leaf, we’re doing all we can. The alarm seems to be coming in through the relays and we can’t get any word from topside. The lab has initiated a full lock down and we’ve got several ponies stuck in the elevator. We’re doing all that we can.”

Leaf turned from him, opening a safe in the wall. I watched her turn the dial with her magic and took note of the numbers she used in the combo. Memory orbs were awesome. The door swung open and she floated a black metal case from her desk into the waiting safe. She slammed it and turned back to the lab coat pony. “Get out there and do what you can. I’ll be out shortly to fix this.”

The pony turned and left, leaving Budding Leaf to sit back down and cradle her head in her hooves. “Fucking Ministry shuts down my project... we were so fucking close. Just a few more days, that’s all I asked. That cunt Grace...” Her eyes burned as she started crying. It was a weird feeling, going through this with no emotional context.

The room shook slightly and she looked up sharply. Screams came from outside the door and she stood, rushing around her desk. The door slid open and the horror of what was happening came to her. The black cube in the center of the room was glowing with a dark energy. A few assorted plants scattered about the room in the middle of experimentation had begun growing out of control.

The pony in the lab coat was running towards me as a leafy tendril shot out and gripped him around his midsection. It squeezed and his eyes widened as he screamed. Blood shot out of his mouth and the vine closed tightly, crushing him nearly in two. What came out both ends made Budding Leaf get violently sick immediately. Around the room, scenes of extreme violence were being played out.

A mare ripped into quarters by a collection of thorned vines that had pulled her into the air sprayed Budding Leaf with an incredible amount of blood, causing the mare to turn and retreat into her office in a blind panic. She slid over her desk, sitting down and typed frantically at the terminal.

>>Emergency Abort Code 45XRR36
>>Authorization: Budding Leaf ID38456

She slammed a hoof into a key and the terminal went dark for a few seconds, Budding Leaf breathing heavily and crying slightly. The terminal winked back to life.

>>Connection to Canterlot Ministry Headquarters Lost
>>Local maneframe rerouting signal...
>>
>>
>>Connection to Hoofington Ministry Office Lost
>>Local maneframe rerouting signal...
>>
>>
>>Local maneframe taking emergency control....
>>Control established.
>>Power to Operation Greenhoof ceasing. Magical shield active.
>>Full Cessation in [2] minutes.
>>[1:59]
>>[1:58]
>>[1:57]

Budding Leaf reached down to a drawer next to her, pulling it open. Inside lay the memory orb I was now looking into. She floated it out to her and held it in her hooves, putting her horn against it.

Sobbing openly, she spoke. “I don’t know what’s going on, but if we’ve lost connection to Canterlot and the Hoof... maybe those zebra fucks finally did it. I know the drill for this, record the last memory. I could give a fuck about that, but if anyone finds this, don’t let my little Ivy know what happened to her mama. Lie to her, tell her I died in a lab accident or... or in whatever the fuck is going on outside. Celestia, I hope I remember how to use this spell...”

Her horn glowed and she began the spell to put her memory into the orb. The sound of shattering metal to her left drew her attention but she kept the spell going. Vines tore into the room through a shelf, throwing books and papers across the room. They headed straight for her.

I felt everything right before the end. I felt her jaw shatter as the vines forced their way into her mouth, I felt the ripping of her throat and stomach as they were violated by the plants. I felt her ribs shatter through her skin and finally felt her burst as the vines built up enough pressure to break her from the inside. The spell activated with her last forced thought.

oooOOOooo

I dropped the orb and clutched my sides, screaming. That was the most pain I had ever felt. Getting shot in the head, getting filled full of nails, having my skin split apart as my muscles broke through it. Nothing compared to what I’d felt in that orb.

I threw up as I lay there, holding my sides. I felt rather than saw Ash as he ducked under the door and rushed to my side. “Kick? What the hell happened.”

I couldn't help it. I cried. I cried from the memory of the pain.

I couldn’t help it.

It took me a while to pull myself together, at least ten minutes from what I could tell, clenching my teeth and finally getting my hooves under me. I stood woozily and leaned against the table.

I was breathing heavily and managed to get out two words. “Fuck.... me....” The memory of the pain was beginning to fade and I was slowly taking control again. Stumbling to where I knew the safe was, I ripped away the vines with my teeth and uncovered the dial. I turned it to the combination that Budding Leaf had used and the door clicked and swung open.

Inside was the black case I’d seen her put in there and a few other items. Another memory orb sat inside and I cautiously reached for it. I was not ready for another memory, not for a while. I pulled it out with a hoof and dropped it into my saddlebag. I pulled the case out with my magic and noticed how surprisingly light it was. I popped it open and saw what was inside. Four square indents, each the size of the cube floating out there. There was a blue glint of metal layered into the case, shining strangely in the few places it was exposed.

The cube that had filled this place with plants and murdered every pony in here. I rubbed my jaw absentmindedly, the memory of it breaking into so many pieces still fresh. I placed the case down and slowly approached the ruined remains of Budding Leaf. The terminal was still on, highlighting her shattered remains with a sickly green glow. I shuddered as I pushed in next to her and removed the vines from around the terminal.

>>Cessation Complete
>>Disengage Shielded Specimen for Transport?
>>Y/N

I hesitated my hoof over the Y. I’d seen what that thing could do now. Did I really want it?

I was certain now that this is what Hate wanted, why this location had been on Sweeps’s PipBuck. I had to deny him this. Anything with this power could not help anyone. It could only hurt. I had to stop him from getting it.

I tapped the Y and waited for a brief second to be torn apart by vines. Nothing.

Ash was still looking at me with a look of concern but kept his mouth shut. Neither of us were in much of a talking mood. I left the terminal and as I picked up the case I motioned to the nervous griffin that he should follow. Ducking under the door, I looked towards the cube. It was no longer floating but the magical glow around it remained.

The cube sat there on the pedestal. I approached it carefully and opened the case. I didn’t want to touch it, even with the magical shield. Using my magic, I lifted it and floated it towards the case. I immediately began feeling lightheaded, as though the cube was trying to do something to me. Placing it into its slot, I slammed the case shut. The feeling disappeared.

The whole room felt better, that oppressive wrongness was gone. “Ash, lets get the fuck out of here.” He was already starting towards the exit. Neither of us wanted to be here anymore. We practically ran down the hallways, our former stealthy movements long gone.

“Kick! Kick where the fuck is the elevator?” Ash was right. The elevator was gone. We both panicked for a few seconds before it slid into view. The griffin let out an audible sigh and took a step forward as the elevator doors opened.

There was a mare inside. Orange coat, orange eyes behind goggles, a white mane. The smell hit us as soon as the doors had opened, a sharp chemical smell. At her sides were black canisters, small fires tipping the barrels that jutted from them. Her eyes filled with the greatest joy as she saw me standing there.

I felt nothing but dread. I knew her.

Her horn glowed orange briefly and a small burst of fire emitted from one of the canisters at her side. That small puff turned into a full on fireball, flying straight at us. The two of us dove to either side but I could smell burning fur and feathers. The temperature in there had just jumped noticeably.

Turning, we fled back down the hall as she caught a speck of fire off of a leaf with her magic. It floated towards her, dancing in the air. She held up her hoof and the flame rested there. “Two Kick! Did you kill Sweeps? I told Hate she was the wrong one to send after that rumor you lived. She always had a huge crush on you. Me, I've got abandonment issues!” The flame formed into the image of a dragon and grew in size, encompassing her head. From the cover I had taken, I could just see her as I loaded slug rounds into Broken.

“Ash, we can’t stay here. Find us a way out!” I whispered at the singed griffin crouching next to me and he looked at me with determination in his eyes. He wasn’t going to die underground. Nodding, he dove from behind the cover, staying out of the orange mare’s line of sight. I lost track of him as he started sticking his head into doors and looking for any other routes. My attention was on the mare walking slowly down the hall.

“Funny story, you being here Two Kick. I saw Hate shoot you. You always were a tough bastard, but you were such fun to be around. The arena, the field, the sack. Awesome.” She giggled. The fiery visage of the dragon was catching the vines on fire as she walked down the hall towards me, but the heat did not seem to bother her. Her hair wasn’t even burning.

“You Paragons really like to hear yourselves talk, don’t you?” As I yelled out, she stopped, looking at where I peeked at her from around my cover.

You Paragons? What, you’re not one of us anymore? Two Kick Rip is giving up the title over a little head wound?” She broke into a fit of giggles, the fire growing around her and beginning to spread into the room, catching leaves and vines as it went. “I’ll remember to tell Hate that when I give him your ashes. He’ll have a laugh and we’ll all be merry. I’m sure even Skyline will laugh.”

I assumed Skyline was a Paragon. The longer she kept talking though, the longer Ash had to find us a way out. The air was still heating up and I was beginning to sweat heavily. I floated Broken up and took aim before firing a slug at her.

The shot headed straight at her face but she didn’t even flinch. The bullet melted in the air, liquid lead spattering the ground near her hooves. She lifted the nearest one to the lead and snorted in distaste. “You almost burned me. That’s not nice!”

The dragon reared around her and shot a cone of flame into the desk i was hiding behind. I felt skin blister and some of my mane catch fire. I smelt burning bandages.

Fuck this, she was going to cook me alive if I didn’t move. As soon as she started talking again, I bolted further into the room, taking shots at her as I ran. None of them connected.

Were all of the Paragon’s bulletproof? I wasn’t. It wasn’t fair if they all were and I could be shot.

I slid over a tabletop, taking vines with me and barely missed another shot of fire roasting me. “Ash! Found anything?!” I shouted loud enough that he had to hear me wherever he was. Being cornered in an oven by a pony that wasn’t bothered by heat was not a good prospect for myself or the errant griffin.

An idea came to me. I floated the case out and held it up. “Hate sent you to get something, right? I’ve got it right here. You burn me and it goes too!”

I heard her giggling again. “You must think I’m stupid. Hate sent me because he knew I couldn’t damage a soul jar. If it doesn’t burn and you want it, Cinder Trails is your girl.”

“I’m guessing you’re Cinder Trails then?” I’d gotten her talking again. Any time at all was good time. The heat subsided a bit and I could breath again.

The dragon shrank considerably, down to the size of a baby. “You don’t remember me? I’m hurt Two Kick. I remembered you.” I glanced over the cover, sighting her beyond the flames that now filled the room. Jumping up onto her hind hooves, she presented herself with a twirl and a flourish. “Really? How could you forget all this? I thought you knew it pretty well.” A huge suggestive grin shot at me through the flames and heat.

She was great. Always ready to go. Always into whatever I wanted. You could have some fun with her.

Great. So this was my old marefriend. That’s fantastic. Hearing a whistle, I looked up. Ash was gesturing at me from a doorway before he raised his rifle and fired at Cinder Trails. The bullet was a little too big and she was not prepared for it.

It struck her along her neck, glowing red and cauterizing the wound instantly. She screamed and glared at us with evaporating tears. The dragon jumped back to full size and she charged, a wall of fire and heat. Most of the room that wasn’t on fire burst into flames as she entered the main chamber.

I bolted for the door that Ash had come from, a fanged head of fire shooting out at me. I ducked under it as it snapped at me, catching most of my mane and tail on fire. I rushed through the door and slammed it with my telekinesis as I went, locking it. It was a thick blast door, but the paint on it started smoking and melting as the door’s temperature skyrocketed.

Ash was standing next to an open hole in the floor, an unsure look on his face. Looking in, I saw only darkness but heard water. A sewer most likely, judging from the cover laying on the ground next to the hole. A quick look back showed that the door was starting to melt out of its frame. That was all I needed.

I hopped into the hole, throwing myself into the darkness. I hit the water and felt the fires go out, then I was swept away. I heard a splash follow shortly behind and hoped that it was Ash.

The pipe swept us away into the dark unknown.

Author's Note:

Thanks to Kkat for creating FoE, an amazing piece fiction as well as setting.

As always, let me know how I'm doing in the comments. Thanks and rate/track/favorite if you enjoyed it.